When pet owners discuss dental health for their pets the most frequently asked question Is “is it necessary to brush your dog’s teeth?”
In the not so distant past it was unheard of to brush a dog’s teeth. Such an outlandish idea would have been met with ridicule. With modern advances in pet health care the importance of dental hygiene for pets has become a serious topic of conversation to discuss with your vet. Just as in humans, uncared for teeth in animals leads to plaque build-up that can cause tooth decay, infection, gum disease and bad breath. It has been reported that up to 80% of dogs will have some form of gum disease by the time they reach 3 years of age. Brushing your dog’s teeth is a preventive measure.
Many vets will recommend a twice yearly professional tooth cleaning performed by a trained staff member in a veterinary practice or dog grooming facility. Dog treats and chews designed to clean teeth and prevent plaque are helpful in between professional cleanings. Yet, some vets believe that, just like humans, your pet’s teeth need to be cleaned on a daily basis. For most of us with busy schedules, especially in the fast paced world we all live in, it seems daunting to add yet another task to an already jam packed day. If you are able to brush your pet’s teeth every day you are to be applauded and your dog will be healthier for it. Most pet owners find it impossible to adhere to this schedule. As in most things, moderation and reasonableness are the answer. Something is better than nothing. As a pet owner, if you can manage to find the time to brush your dog’s teeth two or three times a week you are doing well and contributing to your pet’s health.
The supplies needed to brush your companion’s teeth are simple, yet specific. First, you need a toothbrush. Many vets recommend a tooth brush specially made for dogs. The bristles tend to be softer and are angled to fit a dog’s mouth better than a human tooth brush, although some soft bristled human tooth brushes are acceptable and less expensive. A dog finger brush works well for small dogs, weighing 30 pounds or under, when a regular sized tooth brush is too big to fit in the dog’s mouth. Dog tooth brushes with extra long handles are available for larger dogs, making it easier to gain access to back teeth in a larger canine mouth.
Next, you need toothpaste formulated specifically for dogs. Never use human toothpaste as some of the ingredients can be detrimental to your dog’s health. Dog toothpaste comes in many flavors including, beef, poultry, seafood, peanut butter, banana, vanilla, mint, or combinations such as banana mint or vanilla mint. You may need to experiment to determine which flavors your dog tolerates best. These tooth care supplies can be purchased in your local pet supply store, online, or in some cases, from your vet or groomer.
Dog tooth brushing 101:
Start slowly, at a time when your dog is comfortable and relaxed. Your physical position to the dog is important as you begin the hygiene process. Never stand over the dog in a threatening manner, never hold the dog down or use force to gain compliance. Kneeling or sitting at the dog’s level or to one side is the least threatening position. Begin by handling the dog’s closed mouth area until the dog is used to your touch. Gradually, touch lips, teeth and gums and practice opening and closing your dog’s mouth. Praise often. Rub your finger along the gum line where the toothbrush will go. Squeeze some toothpaste onto your finger and allow the dog to lick it to get used to the both the texture and taste. Next, put the toothpaste on the toothbrush and gently and carefully put it in the dog’s mouth. Some dogs will chew on the brush, be patient and keep trying. Lift the dog’s upper lip and place the brush along the gum line. Brush in a circular motion. Repeat for the bottom teeth. It may take several tries before your dog accepts this new routine.
The following are some helpful tips.
- If your dog is resistant, back off for a few days and try again.
- Keep the sessions short, no more than 5 minutes duration.
- Speak reassuringly to the dog and remain calm throughout the process.
- Stop often, release the dog’s mouth and give it a break before continuing.
- Offer the dog fresh water when finished.
- Keep treats handy and reward often.
- Develop a routine and stick to it.
- A toothpaste flavor your dog likes can mean the difference between success and failure.
Some dogs will never like having their teeth cleaned and it will be a chore, others will love the attention and welcome it. Some pet owners have the time to brush their pet’s teeth as part of a daily routine, others may not be able to fit it into their hectic schedules. In that case, schedule professional cleanings more often, supplement with teeth cleaning chews and treats and know that you have done the best that you can to keep your dog’s teeth healthy. As always, check with your vet about teeth cleaning recommendations for your specific pet. Guidelines can change depending on the age, medical conditions and general health of individual dogs. Your vet can also recommend brands of toothbrushes and toothpaste.